2 Major Causes of Conflicts, and What to Do About It
Addressing Expectations & Assumptions
Two of the biggest causes of conflicts, whether in romantic relationships or otherwise, are expectations and assumptions.
Some studies say money, housework, sex…other topics are the biggest areas of conflicts in romantic relationships. Those might be how the conflicts manifest, but behind many of those conflicts are expectations, especially mismatched expectations and unmet or unfulfilled expectations.
Mismatched expectations can be because two people have different understandings of something.
I thought you meant this, not that.
I thought “clean” meant… I didn’t know you expected …
Or because details or definitions weren’t clear.
I agreed to the thing more often. I thought that meant once every couple of weeks, not three times a week.
Unmet expectations can be tricky because sometimes what someone wants or hopes for can become an expectation. This can happen consciously or unconsciously; however, wanting something doesn’t make it true — especially when it involves someone else.
But I want it! And it’s important to me! Why can’t you just do it for me?!?
Expectations can also be particularly difficult when expectations are assumed, if they’re not communicated, or when one person assumes to have all (or the majority) of the deciding factor in the relationship or situation.
It’s obvious. It’s a given. It’s obvious to me!
How can expectations reasonably be met if they aren’t communicated, or if they aren’t agreed upon (with informed consent and agreement, and without coercion or pressure)?
Why didn’t you do the thing I didn’t tell you about?
Sometimes the difficulty can be from getting an answer that isn’t the desired answer.
Why didn’t you do the thing I told you to do? I know you said “no,” but I want you to do it. I expect you to do it!
Stop and check in. There’s an opportunity for things to get unhealthy from here, or there’s an opportunity for self-reflection, conversations, and becoming closer together.
Awareness and communication can really help.
Start by asking yourself a few questions:
- What are your expectations?
- Are they realistic?
- Have you communicated them clearly to the person/people involved?
- Did the person(s) agree to your expectations?
- What other possibilities could help get those expectations met?
Bigger or more involved expectations might involve in depth conversations with details about what expectations are agreed upon, and how they can be met and measured. (I’ll write a future post with more questions for self reflection and for communicating about expectations.)
If someone else is placing the expectations on you, this can also be an opportunity for communication, including discussing boundaries.
I didn’t agree to that expectation. I won’t be accountable for something I didn’t agree to.
I don’t agree to that expectation. We can talk about x, but I’m not open to y.
Be clear about what your expectations are. It can be easy to feel upset or disappointed if not getting what you want.
Be open to another person’s perspective, boundaries and expectations. This will help with more open, two-way communication.
Part of interacting with others is expressing our needs and expectations, and understanding that sometimes we don’t always get what we want. Another person might not be aware of our expectations, or they might not be aware of the impact or importance attached to an expectation, or you might not be aware of the impact or effects of your expectation on another person.
There’s always more than one perspective when it comes to the human experience.
When interacting with people’s wants and needs, how are your expectations interacting with theirs? How much do you know about their experience, and how much do they know about yours? How open are you each to really listening to the other person, and trying to understand them?
We can’t know everything about another person. Often, gaps in knowledge get filled in with assumptions. These assumptions can be tinted by wants, desires, needs, fears, filters, biases, and so much more.
I hear people say “What happened to common courtesy?” “What about common sense?” Or “It’s so obvious!” The problem with “common” anything is that the definitions aren’t always clear. What seems obvious to one person might not be obvious to another. It can be an easy assumption to think that others share the same perspectives or opinions.
Assumptions lead to a misbelief of having information. The “information” we assume to know might be wrong, incomplete or misleading.
Making decisions or judgements based on assumptions can lead to misunderstandings or even worse, especially when the person making the assumption feels so strongly that their belief is true. (In a global picture, think of how dangerous political assumptions can be, or assumptions made during war.)
People might feel so convinced of their own beliefs that facts no longer matter because their beliefs or assumptions take a central position. This is called moral conviction, and can lead to confirmation bias (looking only for information to support their views, and rejecting anything else.)
Conflicts may even escalate to assuming to know another person’s thoughts, feelings, perspectives, or experiences.
Ask questions with curiosity and an intention to listen and understand.
This can open up communication, resolve misunderstandings and assumptions, and can lead to greater trust and deeper connections: aligning facts, perspectives and experiences, and creating a shared reality.
Most people have some element of wanting to be understood. Make an effort to understand what they’re communicating. Ask questions with an open mind, open heart, and intention to truly understand what they’re communicating.
Whether you’re giving or receiving the messages, check in to see if you’re both understanding the same things. This is a shared responsibility between the message giver and the receiver.
What do you mean by…?
I’m not sure if I understand. Are you saying…?
Remember, misalignments and misunderstandings can happen on either side.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What assumptions might you have that impact how you see another person?
- What assumptions affect how you interact with them?
- How do your assumptions influence your expectations of them? Or of yourself? Or of the relationship or situation?
Take Responsibility for Your Assumptions
Assumptions can snowball into complex stories, complete with details, intentions, and consequences. If you become aware of an assumption, you can voice it and check in. Word your assumptions in a way that you take responsibility for your assumption. Communicate with kindness and compassion for yourself and the other person(s). Be aware that your assumption is an assumption, not a fact.
I realize I’ve been making some assumptions. Can we talk about them?
I’ve got a story in my head. Can I share it with you and talk through it?
Checking in with yourself and reflecting on expectations and assumptions can be helpful and informative. It can lead to personal insights, wisdom, and perhaps even opportunities to have your needs met in ways that may not have been obvious.
Talking about expectations can also lead to bigger conversations about boundaries and respect. Addressing expectations and assumptions can lead to more alignment with understandings, and to reduced conflicts. It’s a great way to build trust and connection.
Don’t we all want to understand and be understood?